16 July 1983
It was Silverstone’s turn to host the British Grand Prix and the fast circuit was expected to provide another turbo power demonstration. As the home base of many of the teams, and after a month’s break between races, several teams were debuting new or modified cars at the race. Lotus finally had two Renault turbo engines, and had a much-needed new car, the 94T, to run them in. The 94 was actually a modified 92, but the 93 had been such a disaster that it wasn’t seen as a retrograde step – but the car had had little testing time and only two chassis had been built. Jury still out. Osella also had a second new engine, giving Corrado Fabi the same Alfa Romeo V12 as Piercarlo Ghinzani, but it hadn’t helped Ghinzani’s cause much so far. Ferrari’s updated 126C3 was visually the same as the 126C2 it replaced, but with some tweaking under the hood. There had been rumours that McLaren would have their TAG Turbo engines ready for Silverstone, but in the end the Woking team arrived with the usual Cosworth power.
There were two new arrivals on the grid – the Spirit-Honda team made its competitive debut after an initial run-out at the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch earlier in the year. Stefan Johansson would drive car number 40, while RAM gave a debut to Northern Irishman Kenny Acheson.
Son of an Ulster brickworks owner who had himself raced motorbikes and Formula Ford, Kenny had a go in one of his dad’s old FF cars in 1976 and was obviously quick, so his dad bought him a new car for the 1977 season on condition young Kenny quit smoking. Kenny duly complied and went on to win the 1977 Northern Ireland Formula Ford title, before moving to England to contest three 1978 Formula Ford titles. He won all three, taking 29 race wins, and went into Formula Three. In 1980 he took the title contest with Stefan Johansson right down to the last race before losing, and moving up into F2. In 1981, driving a privately-entered Toleman chassis, he had a big accident while racing Michele Alboreto and broke both legs, but still managed seventh in the 1982 championship and a move to the works Maurer team, with whom he was driving when the call came from March.
40. Stefan Johansson
Stefan’s father was a successful touring car racer, and young Stefan started karting at the age of 12, before moving up to Formula Ford, where he won the Swedish title in 1977 and moved to the UK to contest the more prestigious British F3 series. After winning a race at Silverstone, the Shadow team offered him a Formula One drive but after two failures to qualify, he departed to go back to F3 and win the British title. 1981 saw a move to Toleman in Formula 2, where he beat Kenny Acheson to the title at the last race of the season and moved to the Spirit-Honda team for 1982, where he and Thierry Boutsen helped develop the F1 entrant as well as racing F2. The Swede was widely considered to have blown his chance at F1 two years earlier so when Honda wanted to keep their entry low-key, it was he and not rising star Boutsen who got the chance.
As expected, qualifying was a turbo benefit, but there was a new car in the mix: the Lotus 94T had just clicked with Elio de Angelis, who parked it fourth on the grid, behind Arnoux, Tambay and Prost. Mansell hadn’t had quite such a good time with his car and was only 18th, behind a very impressive debut by the Spirit-Honda in 14th. The Brabhams filled the third row, with Rosberg once again top of the atmos in 13th. With the addition of Spirit, there would be three non-qualifiers: this weekend, Johnny Cecotto, Corrado Fabi and Kenny Acheson missed the cut.
Race day dawned hot, and most pundits expected the race would be decided by a combination of tyre choices – Michelin or Goodyear – and whether or not the turbos overheated, with a few suggesting that de Angelis could be a dark horse, especially when he was fastest in pre-race practise. The cars lined up slightly raggedly for the start, and when they got away, de Angelis was slow off the line and dropped to seventh behind the two Brabhams and Eddie Cheever, who got a rocket from seventh to slot in fourth at the first corner. The two Ferraris blasted down to Copse and Tambay left it really late to brake, getting past into the lead with Prost, Patrese, Cheever and Piquet chasing. The new Lotus looked good, Mansell making his way up to tenth while de Angelis simply sailed past Piquet – only for his engine to throw a cylinder and expire in a cloud of smoke on lap three. One lap later, Cheever’s own Renault engine did the same thing, and Giacomelli’s Hart turbo expired on the same lap.
Tambay began to pull away from Arnoux, who had great rival Prost climbing all over the back of him. The Ferrari was quicker down the straights, but the Renault was grippier in the corners and a fantastic battle included. Stefan Johansson’s Grand Prix debut lasted just five laps before his Honda’s fuel pump failed. On lap 9, as Prost continued to harry Arnoux, Riccardo Patrese’s rotten luck continued as his turbo blew and off he went to further stoke rumours that he would be replaced for 1984. The Ferraris’ tyres were already starting to fade by lap 14, when Arnoux finally lost out to Prost and the Renault quickly pulled right away as the leaders moved into the backmarkers. Prost quickly caught up to Tambay as well and went into the lead on lap 20, by which time Arnoux had also dropped back behind Piquet, who then chased down and overtook Tambay to go second.
Fuel stops were expected around lap 29, with Winkelhock scheduled to be first in (and McLaren due to make their first ever fuel stops), but a lap earlier it looked like Derek Warwick had come in early – only to climb out of his car with a broken gearbox, his 1982 heroics not to be repeated. The pitstops were generally slick (except for Alfa Romeo’s, where de Cesaris couldn’t get his clutch to re-engage for 30 seconds), and the leaders ended up in the same order, except that Nigel Mansell had got past de Cesaris and Winkelhock by virtue of a better stop, and was now chasing down Arnoux.
Unlike Arnoux, Tambay had got the hang of his tyres and was able to stay in touch with Piquet, while Mansell was able to get past Arnoux to take fourth place. And there it stayed for the rest of the race, which settled down into a rather dull procession, though briefly enlivened when Raul Boesel’s Ligier shed its engine cover on the home straight and stayed there on the track, the marshals unable to remove it safely. Shortly before the end, Nigel Mansell had caught up on Tambay enough to provide some excitement as he lapped faster and faster trying for a podium at his home race, but it wasn’t to be. Prost, Piquet and Tambay would be on the podium steps, with Mansell pleased with a popular 4th place from 18th on the grid, with Arnoux a disgruntled fifth and Niki Lauda best of the rest with a point for sixth place.
After the race, Ken Tyrrell protested Ferrari’s and Renault’s water-injection systems (though curiously not the one on the identical engine in the Lotus), but the stewards threw out the protest. Some suggested that Ken, with his reputation for outspoken politics-playing, had been put up to the protest by Brabham, others suggested it was no real surprise that Ken had no turbo deal yet for 1984…